Melodramas in Tibet

Freedom of Speech, Frontiers

Since January 8th, people living in China have had a new serial to watch: “The Untold Story of Tibet” is a love story in the land of snows set in the 1930s. It is produced by China Central Television and, along with the usual lovebirds’ problems and a dramatic musical score, stars what CCTV calls Tibet’s “peaceful liberation by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army”.

It’s not the first time Chinese state television produces a television series about this Himalayan region. In 2011, they spared no expense to create “Shangri-la”, another soap opera about 1930s Tibet. Expert fight choreographers were hired and epic horse-riding scenes shot. That same year, China officially became the world’s largest producer of soap operas, churning out 41 episodes per day, official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported. 

To keep Tibetans tuned in to these series, China gives away the right kind of satellite receivers (those restricted to domestic reception) in rural areas. The wrong ones are seized and destroyed. Two weeks ago  1.800 satellite dishes were burned in Tibet's Tongren County, and, last week, a public notice announced  5.000 yuan fines and “other consequences” for households with satellite dishes that provide access to foreign channels.

Monks, in particular, should be watching the soaps. In 2011, Chinese authorities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region set “Nine Must-Haves” for every lamastery. These include a road that gives direct access to the lamastery, the Chinese national flag, pictures of Chinese leaders and televisions.  

"Monastery Management Committees" which, in practice, allow direct rule of government officials over monks, are in charge of implementing the "Must-Have" policy.  According to state media, the Chinese government has kindly donated 8,000 new television sets to help.

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